Summary: Creative and spontaneous strategies can help children ease attention-seeking tasks.

Source: Max Planck Institute

Children have a hard time with concentration tasks, but they are often good at finding hidden “tricks” to make the task easier. According to a study of children’s learning behavior by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, sudden changes in strategy help them do this.

Compared to adults, children can’t focus yet, they remember little and their attention span is relatively short. This is due to the level of cognitive development. As a result – so far – they are deficient in solving tasks.

However, a study by the Max Planck Research Group “Neurocode: The Neural and Computational Basis of Learning, Memory and Decision-Making” for the Max Planck Institute for Human Development shows that a broader focus of attention can also be useful: when children process less relevant information and solve tasks. Use time to automatically discover new and creative strategies.

Adults also show sudden changes in strategy when solving a task, similar to the so-called “aha-moments” that make solving a task easier.

Magazine article published in the magazine PLOS OneAlthough children do worse when solving tasks using traditional strategies such as focused attention, they are just as likely as adults to master tasks using sudden strategy changes.

Psychologist and neuroscientist Nicholas Schuck, leader of the Max Planck research group “Neurocode”, says: “Our results show that children are often more distractible and easily distracted than adults, but they are remarkably flexible in finding completely new solutions.” Planck Institute for Human Development.

Schuck added, “They are useful results for examining learning behavior in children, especially considering that their ability to concentrate is not fully developed.”

In the year The study, which has been running since 2013, used the following method: 47 children aged 8 to 10 and 39 young adults aged 20 to 35 were asked to perform the same decision-making task.

In this task, you are asked to determine the location of the pattern using two possible answers. The color of the pattern was initially not relevant to the correct answer, but as the task progressed, it began to be associated with the correct answer.

When participants realized this, they were able to solve the task more efficiently and easily. The participants were not told that there might be other factors influencing the possible solution strategies and that they could only identify them individually.

The Neurocode team at MPIB, in collaboration with researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Fern Universität Hagen, Humboldt University Berlin, UNSW Sydney and PFH Göttingen, achieved the following results: Compared to the young adults, the children performed significantly better overall. Worse in solving the task. They had more wrong and premature answers. However, the percentage of children (27.5%) who found and used the helpful color strategy was similar to that of young adults (28.2%).

Children performed worse when they used only the first strategies and rules that required attention and persistence. However, as many children as young adults discover and use the color code.

This shows a picture of a little girl
The new knowledge surrounding the “aha moment” is an important finding of the study. The image is in the public domain.

Thus, although children performed worse in all areas of cognitive control, compared to young adults, they had an almost equal number of “aha moments” improvements, and had the same performance advantage as the adult group.

The new knowledge surrounding the “aha moment” is an important finding of the study.

“Our findings are evidence that teachers, parents, and educators should not stick to rigid rules and teach only one concrete way to solve problems, but should give children a wide range of attention and encouragement.

“Our findings show that we can rely more on children’s creative problem-solving strategies,” said Annika Lowe, member of the Neurocode team and co-author of the study. In the future, she says, more research should be done on creative processes in the field of cognitive development psychology instead of focusing on children.

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Author: Press office
Source: Max Planck Institute
Contact: Press Office – Max Planck Institute
Image: The image is in the public domain.

Preliminary study: Open Access.
Sudden discovery of new functional solutions in children” by Nicholas W. Schuck et al PLOS One


Sudden discovery of new functional solutions in children

Children often perform worse than adults on tasks that require attention. While this is typically considered a sign of incomplete cognitive development, wide attention spans allow children to find new solutions to a task.

To test this idea, we examined children’s ability to discover and use new features of the environment to improve their decision-making strategies. The participants were given a simple choice task in which the opportunity for strategy modification was neither mentioned by instructions nor encouraged by explicit error feedback.

Among the 47 children (aged 8-10 years) who were instructed to perform the selection task in two experiments, 27.5% showed a complete strategy change. This corresponds to adults with similar perceptions (28.2% of n = 39).

The proportion of incorrect choices, working memory, and inhibitory control, in contrast, indicated significant deficits in children’s task performance and cognitive control. The task difficulty manipulation did not affect the results.

Significant age differences in different aspects of cognitive performance may provide educators with a unique opportunity to develop children’s learning.

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